DUP leader’s subtle message of co-operation to end gridlock

Democratic Unionist Party leader Peter Robinson reminds conference working with Sinn Féin only way to get things done

 Peter Robinson: rallied party  for the Westminster electoral battle ahead at his party’s annual conference. Photograph: Eric Luke

Peter Robinson: rallied party for the Westminster electoral battle ahead at his party’s annual conference. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

; that unless the DUP and Sinn Féin do business together no business will be done. It is as simple as that.

There is still a bitter rump in the party that hates hearing that line but Robinson realised that, in the face of the current talks aimed at taking the North out of political gridlock, that message must be reinforced.

It is either that or Stormont collapses, although he didn’t spell it out in such graphic terms. And neither did the DUP leader overplay the theme of co-operation. But at least the 400 delegates would have exited the conference knowing somewhere in their subconscious that, strange and all as it might seem, the DUP and Sinn Féin are inextricably linked: they survive together or sink together.

East Derry MP Gregory “curry my yogurt” Campbell was able to provide a counterpoint to such hard realities with a good-old-style DUP anti-Shinner knockabout. He produced a tub of yogurt for the delegates and hoped there would be curry for lunch. And what would he drink with his curry? A can of “coca coalyer”, of course.

The crowd loved it. Also there to keep the crowd pumped up was East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson with a bakery riff, complete with reference to “fairy cakes”, about the Equality Commission’s over-the-top attempt to legally censure Ashers Bakery for refusing to bake a Bert and Ernie pro-gay marriage cake.

Potential successor

Otherwise, considering the criticism Robinson had to take from the Paisley family, it must have been somewhat awkward for the First Minister to join in the tributes paid to his former leader and mentor at the conference. But he did what had to be done.

This weekend there was no breaking of ranks. Edwin Poots was seen but not much heard. If rebels had any plans about usurping their leader they were keeping their powder dry.

On the succession, Robinson said ahead of the conference that what he wanted was a “smooth transition”. Handing over needed “to be at a time when I feel that I have accomplished some of the key goals that I have set for myself”.

That was tempting fate. Many leaders have had such presumptuous ambitions only to be shocked when the men and women in grey suits came calling. But there was no hint of rebellion at the conference.

Instead the concentration was on unity, on, at least, holding the party’s eight seats in the British general election in May and much more specifically on regaining the East Belfast seat that Alliance’s Naomi Long snaffled from Robinson four years ago, and on restoring lost pride. Succession is for another day.